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What to know about constipation

Let’s talk constipation

Constipation is likely something we have all experienced at one point or another. Whether it has only happened to you once (lucky you) or you’re a regular, one thing is for sure – you are not alone. Constipation is among one of the most common digestive complaints in the United States, and we can definitely stand by this as we work with tons of clients suffering from constipation. Today we are talking about everything bowel movements concerning why going to the bathroom is so essential, how often you should be going, causes of constipation, as well as our top foods and tips to alleviate constipation. 

Why having consistent bowel movements is so essential

Everyone goes, but have you ever thought about what is in your poop and why we go? Turns out, the composition of your poop is not just food that your body is done digesting aka indigestible plant materials; it also is composed of water, bacteria, and metabolic waste (think: cholesterol, hormones, byproducts of medicine, etc.).  

Why does this matter? Well, take a moment to think about what happens if these byproducts stay in your body, building up for an extended period of time. It is no wonder being constipated is so uncomfortable. When you go to the bathroom, your body is able to detox and balance hormones. However, if you are not going to the bathroom, this metabolic waste and hormones build-up, causing imbalances. 

How often you should be going

You may have been told by countless doctors that your bowel movements are unique to you. While this is true, there are still normal patterns of bowel movements and not-so-normal patterns. 

For example, let’s say that your whole life, you have only gone to the bathroom every other day. In theory, this pattern would be normal because that is your normal. But the question we should really be asking is not what is normal, as much as what is optimal?

We believe that you should be going to the bathroom once a day, and maybe even twice! YUP, you heard us right! If you take a moment to think about how much food you consume in one day, and then think about how much and how quickly that can build up and disrupt your body’s detoxification process if you are not going for one, two, or even three days!

As someone who has suffered from constipation their entire life, I can imagine what you may be thinking right now… there is no way my body will have a bowel movement daily; forget twice a day! I can assure you that it is possible.  Not going to the bathroom daily is often a sign that there’s something off balance, which can be addressed when working with a health practitioner.

The problem with being constipated

Let us take a step back because it’s important to emphasize what constipation is and why it’s problem evoking. 

Constipation can present as:

  • Incomplete emptying of bowels
  • Hard-to-pass poop
  • Infrequent bowel movements (not going for more than 2-3 days)
  • Strain while using the bathroom
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Bloating
  • Flatulence 

Now that we covered the symptoms of constipation, let us dive into its problems: 

  • Waste build-up → toxin build-up → impacting energy and digestive system
  • Bacteria build-up → dysbiosis (imbalance of gut bacteria) → GI distress and conditions like SIBO
  • Hormone build-up (particularly estrogen) → hormonal imbalances 
  • Inflammation of the colon, GI tract, or body in general 

Constipation is not only uncomfortable, but super problematic, which is why we need to be talking about it more!

Common causes of constipation

Constipation can be brought on by tons of different factors. As touched on earlier, everyone has their own “normal” when going to the bathroom. It might be that you have always gone to the bathroom every couple of days your whole life, or it could be that you went through a stressful time in your life and are now suffering from constipation. 

When dealing with constipation, it is important to evaluate one’s diet and lifestyle and any medical conditions diagnosed/or undiagnosed to get a deeper understanding of what is going on. 

Common causes of constipation:

  • Dehydration (you may not feel dehydrated, but this could be your body’s way of telling you!)
  • Diet low in fiber
  • Stress (affects motility, gastric secretions, and nerve function) 
  • Food allergies/sensitivities
  • Bacterial imbalances/overgrowth (dysbiosis, SIBO)
  • Infection/Parasites
  • Hormonal fluctuations throughout your cycle (this is more common than you might think)
  • Certain medications (think: antidepressants, antihypertensives, etc.)
  • Lack of movement (this greatly impacts your bowel movements!)
  • Ignoring the urge to poop (do not do this!)
  • Overall poor digestion
  • Medical conditions (think: hypothyroidism, gut-brain axis dysfunction, anatomic problems)

Surprisingly, this list is non-exhaustive, meaning that there are tons of reasons you may be constipated, so taking a holistic approach is imperative. 

Most of the time, the cause and solution are simple and can be addressed through diet and lifestyle changes, while for others, more extensive testing (stool, blood work, etc.) is required to get to the root cause. 

Foods to help alleviate constipation

When talking about foods to help alleviate constipation, we like to look for water-rich fruits/veggies, medium-high fiber foods, healthy fats, and anti-inflammatory properties. 

Some of our favorite foods to relieve constipation:

  • Zucchini – water-rich
  • Veggie Juice (cucumber, ginger, lemon, celery)
  • Aloe Vera Juice – natural laxative
  • Avocado – healthy fat and fiber
  • Cucumber – water-rich
  • Apple – fiber-rich
  • Coconut – healthy fat
  • Oats – fiber-rich
  • Salmon- healthy fat
  • Chia Seeds – healthy fat and fiber
  • Ginger – stimulates digestion
  • Fennel  – fiber-rich, anti-inflammatory
  • Turmeric – anti-inflammatory

Note that while fiber can be a powerful tool in helping you go to the bathroom, be careful not to overdo it. In some cases, too much fiber can be too rough on the GI tract and, without proper hydration, can back you up! Make sure to drink tons of water when eating fiber-rich foods. Remember that fiber is great to keep you regular but can be tricky once you are already backed up!

Foods to avoid when constipated

There are a handful of foods to avoid when constipated. Some of these foods you may have expected, while others may be shocking considering their health benefits. 

Foods to decrease when feeling constipated:

  • Binding grains (like rice and oats)
  • Processed foods
  • Fried foods
  • Alcohol
  • Dairy and gluten – if sensitive
  • Caffeine (if you drink too much of it, it can actually have the opposite effect)

Tips for constipation

Below are a handful of our top tips to help relieve/avoid constipation!

  • Hydrate!! (seriously, this can be a huge help!)
  • Get moving! Short-term this helps stimulate your GI tract, and long-term has a positive effect on your microbiome)
  • Engage in mindfulness practices to reduce stress/anxiety (this helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, aka rest and digest
  • Eat warming foods to promote bowel movements
  • Take a daily probiotic (this is not for everyone!)
  • Try taking magnesium citrate or glycinate (work with a health professional to determine if this is right for you!)
  • Incorporate digestive teas (dandelion, lemon balm, fennel, peppermint,  ginger)

The Bottom Line

So many of us suffer from constipation, but we should not have to. Constipation is not just uncomfortable; it is problematic. Getting to the root cause of constipation is key and can be often be addressed through diet and lifestyle. 

Suffering from constipation? Click here to work with us!